Bill Keller on Hate Crimes

Should the same crime deserve greater punishment if motivated by racial hatred or bigotry? At The New York Times, former editor Bill Keller says no, with the murder of Treyvon Martin as his entry point to the issue. He thereby instantaneously won the argument for his opponents, explains Choire Sicha. Here there is a convergence of things—urbane yet tone-deaf, sententious yet half-baked, researched yet undiscovered—that we may term Kellerian.


  1. I have to wonder what hate crime legislation is actually supposed to accomplish? Does somebody really think that someone is determined to maim or kill someone they stop for a moment, realize that instead of just getting hit with a murder charge they’re also going to get hit with a few more years for a “hate crime”? I doubt it.

    So really, why do we have all these “special cases”? Hey, murder is bad, but if you murder someone while thinking or acting on something very narrowly defined it’s worse? This makes no sense and it won’t prevent any hate crime(s) from happening.

    So why then are politicians continue to push these kinds of legislations? I think the honest assessment is: To make ourselves feel better. It’s not about the victims nor is it about the perpetrators, these kinds of laws are made for the rest of us so that we can stand there proudly, condemn atrocious acts and show everybody how serious we are because, well, we punish it harder.

    A much better approach in my opinion would be to simplify the message: Violence is wrong. We don’t need to identify specific groups or motivations for that.

    Or am I missing the elephant in the room here and there actually is a benefit to hate crime legislation?

    1. Does somebody really think that someone is determined to maim or kill someone they stop for a moment, realize that instead of just getting hit with a murder charge they’re also going to get hit with a few more years for a “hate crime”? I doubt it.

      You’re basically arguing (fairly correctly I might add) that punishment doesn’t actually act as deterrence.  By your logic, we should get rid of it altogether, not just hate crime laws.  

      1. No, there need to be consequences, but constantly creating exceptions for no particular reason other than to make ourselves feel good overcomplicates the Justice system and in the end leads to less Justice.

        1. As you just pointed out- the consequences don’t actually stop people from committing the crimes.  So why do there need to be consequences?  

          1. That’s not what you argued before. You’ve been linking punishment with deterrence, with people stopping and thinking about their impending crime and then backing off or proceeding based on the possible punishments.

            But going with your new line here- our justice system is about “righting a wrong” and “balancing the scales”, I don’t see how that changes anything.

            You recognize proportionality, right? Stealing a bike weighs less on the scales you mentioned than burning a home to the ground, which weighs less than accidentally running a kid over, which weighs less than purposefully murdering your cheating husband? And because they weigh different amounts, the punishments are different, yes?

            So you understand that the circumstances surrounding an act change how much it weighs, and therefore how heavy the punishment should be to balance things out. So how are hate crimes any different from the rest of the system? It’s just one more thing affecting how much a crime “weighs”.

          2. 1) If you put someone in jail, they can’t commit the crime again — or in the worst case scenario, they can only commit the crime on other criminals.  That’s good.

            2) While it’s likely that the nature of the sentence does not deter, actually having one surely must. 

            3) In a fair society, criminals must be seen to not get away with it.  (I think this is what Michael means by ‘justice’, and it has nothing to do with punishment.)

            Enough reasons?

    2. I don’t agree with the laws but I understand why so many people want them. We collectively feel a greater sense of injustice when a person is gunned down for the color of his skin rather than for the contents of his wallet.

      1. I understand why people want them too, but I guess I still demand that the people we elect to make these decisions use their head, not their heart. Yes yes, as if…..

        1. The people we elect are using their heads. From a purely pragmatic, self-serving point of view, few politicians could ever hope to be reelected after being branded “soft on hate.”

          1. Oh I understand why they are doing what they are doing. In my opinion this comes all down to a lack of education. For most people the Courts and Justice System are a magic box that spits stuff out and is often wrong / too lenient.

            So yeah, I don’t expect this to change anytime soon, but I also don’t think we should just shrug and ignore this question.

    3. We have these in Canada. It might be better demonstrated with assault that full-on murder: People get into fights all the time for all sorts of reasons. If you’re being an ass, you might expect to get into a fight. But if you’re just gay/black/visible minority – yet there are people to whom that’s reason enough to fight you. Laws such as this seek to protect these minorities. 

      These types of laws have been used to prevent tighty-whitey supremacists from handing out pamphlets claiming all sorts of racists garbage, as well as stopping young bigots from trolling around the gay neighbourhoods looking for gay people to stomp and a plethora of other badness. All of which do nothing to elevate out society and everything to drag it down.

      So tell me again why you wouldn’t want this?

      1. The problem is that it works *both* ways. Not only can Neo-Nazi thugs be accused of hate crimes, people are trying to make the case the other way around for crimes against *them* (as in the current Jan Korinth case in BC) See the problem?

        1.  Why is that a problem? It’s not okay to beat the hell out of people for any reason, other than defense.

          1. You answered your own question. If it’s not okay for anyone, then there’s no need for additional rules.

    4. So really, why do we have all these “special cases”? Hey, murder is bad, but if you murder someone while thinking or acting on something very narrowly defined it’s worse?

      Yes. Hate crimes aren’t about feelings, or simply punishing people for murdering while racist, they’re about recognizing the full scope of a crime.

      What you intend to do is always part of that scope. If James kills Martin by accident, it’s considered manslaughter. If James kills Martin deliberately, it’s an act of murder, and we treat it more seriously.

      So, if James kills Martin because Martin happens to be black, he’s still committed an act of murder. But he’s also sending a message any other black people: at the very least, go away, keep your head down, and watch yourself, because any of you could be next. You don’t have to pay much attention to notice how minorities can be terrorized by this.

      Hate crimes are meant to be the recognition of this very real additional crime. There are ways to criticize them, but if you think they’re not about the criminal’s actions, you simply don’t understand the concept.

    5.  The thinking behind stronger penalties for hate crimes is twofold: 1) they are a special (and especially vile) kind of premeditated crime; premeditation has always been punished more harshly than crimes of passion, circumstance, opportunity, etc. 2) If someone has a predisposition to kill one person based solely on very general characteristics, odds are better that they will kill again, since, well… there’s lots of those potential victims out there.

      It’s not just “feel good” legislation. And it’s not meant, necessarily, to be more of a deterrent. It’s meant to reflect a kind of crime that is legally and culturally worse.

  2. Christ, Bill. Let me make the argument in a way that actually makes sense:

    “We should punish criminals for their actions, not for their thoughts.”

    How hard was that?

      1. An attempt is an action, not a thought. Attempting murder is a crime, thinking about committing murder isn’t.

        1. The notion that it was an attempt at murder is based on presumed thought. Likewise the difference between murder and manslaughter. What you said sounds like it excludes them.

          Meanwhile hate crime is based on the attempt to intimidate or marginalize people with a regular crime, as I elaborate above. If attempts can count as actions, then that qualifies.

        2. If this were an article about prosecuting people for just thinking about committing a crime, all of this would be relevant.  But it isn’t.  So it isn’t.

    1. So, a 9-year-old who fires a gun is just as culpable as a 19-year that fires a gun? Or a retarded-person who fires a gun?

      Because it’s all about the actions, not the thoughts, rights?

      [I’m not clear if your arguing with Keller, agreeing with him, or what. I am arguing against what you have put up there in quotes, however]

      1. Culpability is a different issue than motivation.

        It is my opinion, though many may disagree, that a person who commits murder motivated by greed should face just as harsh a sentence as a person who commits the same crime out of hate.

        I’ve gone back and forth on this issue so I can certainly see where people on the other side are coming from. I might even change my mind again some day, but right now it just feels too close to “thoughtcrime” for comfort.

    2. Uh, mens rea is a necessary element of most crimes. It is the “state of mind.” You know, thoughts.

  3. Two columnists talking past each other.  Keller makes some legit points with lousy timing, less-than-ideal examples and a strawman or two.  Sicha uses those weaknesses in Kellers writing to do everything *but* squarely address the substance of what Keller was saying.

    Score:  Columnists – 1; Intellectual Honesty – 0.

    Oh, well.  They made BB, providing good hit bait for their sites.

      1.  OK, I can accept that.  I don’t write for a living, so I can accept that.

        When I write something, my natural tendency is not to attract readers but to communicate something I feel or believe.  One person swayed by my argument is precious to me.  One person who replies to me and changes my mind is even more precious.  That one reader is enough for me, so I apologize for being insensitive to the needs of people who do this stuff to pay the bills.  I’m being sincere, here; that need for multiple readers never really occurred to me until you pointed it out.  I’ll keep it in mind in the future.

    1. The criterion is extremely clear, even if you can’t be bothered to find out what it is.  And it has nothing to do with whether the victim and perpetrator are different, or whether the perpetrator is a “white heterosexual male”.  

      The criterion is harm or threat of harm for “reason of race, color, religion, or national origin” (and various other categories depending on the location).  Which is to say, a White man killing a Black man isn’t a hate crime.   A White man killing a Black man because he’s Black is.  

      1. again, how do you tell if a white man killed a black man because he’s black, or because he just wanted to kill someone that night? how can you tell a man killed a woman because he hates women, or because he hates that particular woman? you can’t and people need to stop acting like you can. what it boils down to is that you are prosecuting people based on what a prosecutor or cop thinks their motivation behind the crime is. it flies in the face of justice, which is supposed to be based on evidence, not social histrionics.

        1. Same way you tell whether someone accidentally killed someone, or purposefully killed them- you investigate, analyze the evidence, have a trial, and ultimately turn the case over to a judge or jury to decide.  

          1. You’ve said the same thing three times. Unless you have anything new to add to the discussion, stop.

          2. my intent was not to repeat myself. my intent was to get someone here to explain to me how a jury is supposed to tell if a crime is motivated by race, gender, etc. you all keep pointing out that it’s the same as intent in a murder trial, but you’re wrong. it’s actually nothing like intent, which is usually fairly straightforward to determine. in hate crime legislation, you are asking a jury to determine if a person meant to terrorize one person, or an entire group of people, and despite your protestations to the contrary, i do not believe that it is possible. that being said, as a longtime reader, i’m stunned by how rude and condescending some of you are. i very rarely comment on articles here, and i don’t think i’ve ever used my real name before, but rest assured i will not be back. i was under the impression that a civil discussion could be had here, and that perhaps i would get some further insight into why people think this legislation is so important. in response to your rather snotty request that i either start contributing or shut up, i have generously done you the favor of deleting the comments you felt were just too repetitive to let slide.

        2. You’ve answered your own question: 

          “justice, which is supposed to be based on evidence”

          If there’s a murder, but no evidence of racial motivation, then what yer left with is just a plain-old-fashioned murder.

        3. how do you tell if a white man killed a black man because he’s black, or because he just wanted to kill someone that night?

          It’s called a jury trial.  Intent is ALWAYS assessed in murder cases.

        4. Jennifer, I appreciate your questions, as they strike at a key vulnerability in our legal system, and are pondered by many first year law students (and current lawyers).

          Mens rea, or state of mind, of the criminal must be proven to commit anyone of any offense in our legal system.  This is NOT intent, as other commentators have suggested.  It is rather a combination of intent and motivation.  

          This is the reason that mental insanity has long been accepted as a defense even where an individual clearly intended to commit a crime.  Its why “crimes of passion” are subject to lower sentences.  Its why, if I kill someone that I reasonably think was trying to kill me, I will not go to jail, even if I was mistaken. 

          But, how can anyone know what’s going on in the head of another person?  How can we judge whether someone is “insane”, or in a fit of passion at the time of a crime,  or whether they truly believed the victim was going to kill them?  All of these things are, in fact, unknowable to all but the criminal himself.

          Yet, our legal system operates under the (potential) fiction that such internal thoughts are in fact knowable beyond a “reasonable doubt”.  Perhaps because people generally believe that motivation for an act is inseparable from the act itself, and so must be taken into account when judging one’s actions.

          Whether this is justifiable or not of course is a personal opinion, but in any case is not limited to hate or bias crimes in any way

  4. Instead of classifying crimes as “hate crimes” you can simplify it even more by referring to them as discriminate or indiscriminate.  If it can be proven, that someone is specifically targeting a certain group of people that should certainly weigh in their sentencing and rehabiliation (hopefully) as it could allude to that person being a greater danger to the public.

  5. It would be really nice if we lived in a white-privilege fairy tale (well, white-straight-male!) where hate crime legislation wasn’t necessarily.

    Unfortunately, we live in a fairly gritty, realistic world where all of the usual -isms are all too common. Hate crime laws recognize that minority populations start out at a major disadvantage in getting reparations and/or justice for bigotry-based attacks on them and on their property. And like most laws (in theory, of course) it aims to reduce or eliminate something considered unethical.

    I can’t help but see the usual arguments against hate crime laws in the same light that I see the Flat Tax in, or eliminating the social safety nets: a great idea, as long as you’re in a position where it doesn’t really effect you.

    1. The problem is that laws often have unintended consequences. And that they are often abused by the other side than the one they were intended to protect (that is, in the cases when they are actually enforceable at all).

      As a biologist, I’ve noted how cleverly creationists and climate change skeptics use the very laws designed to keep scientific information flowing (and which seemed perfectly noble at the time) to harass researchers with pointless requests for information and thus hinder further research. I’m sure such people would love the ability to silence researchers by claiming that evolutionary biology is hate speech against religion and the like.

      1.  Do you mean to imply that this is a serious problem with hate crime laws? Or is it a convenient strawman?

        1. Yes, it is a serious problem. The potential for abuse of these laws is a very real issue.

    2. Surely, the way to go about solving that would be to offer greater protections to the disadvantaged, rather than to mete out more punishment to people potentially more inclined to attack the disadvantaged?

      There are good arguments for taking the difference in power between victim and perpetrator into account. Additional punishment for thoughts and sentiments is not a good way to go about this, however.

      1. Did you mean to say ‘people who have committed crimes against the disadvantaged‘? Because you said “potentially more inclined to attack the disadvantaged”.

        “Additional punishment for thoughts and sentiments is not a good way to go about this, however.”I’d like to see some actual reasons to support that. We can do both just fine.

        1. 1. Well no – a crime committed out of hate is a crime that was caused by, and leaves behind, an inclination to commit the crime that non-hating individuals do not have. If the victim of a crime just happens to be disadvantaged, said victim is offered no extra protections or recompense under the current approach. This is part of the reason why I think the current approach not to be the best one.

          2. Sovereignty over our minds. What goes on in our minds does not affect anyone. It is how those thoughts manifest that can be damaging. Hence, it is the manifestations and the damage they cause that must be evaluated, not the thoughts behind them. Why? Because unless damage is caused, what claim do we have to impose our wills over the wills of others in such a way that we are protected from others imposing their will over us. “These thoughts just shouldn’t be thought” is a great way to institutionalise privilege.

  6. Parden my cynism: Shouldn’t the government get back to work killing Muslims and incarcerating Black men??

  7. You have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt in open court if the prosecution really wants to try and get more time. The legislation is designed for people who target and prey on any specific group of people for any reason AND COMMIT FELONIES. You can still hate whatever group you want without causing anyone trouble (like Palin) and never have hate crimes legislation effect you. These laws are only for the extremes, not the person who gets drunk one night and picks a fight with anything, that would never stand up in court as beyond a shadow of a doubt.

  8. Hate crime legislation gives legitimacy to “thoughtcrime”. You’ve made an opinion illegal. Murder is murder; if your intent was to commit murder to scare a population, you’ve committed terrorism, which is already handled in law and isn’t specific to a few criteria.

    I find racism reprehensible, but the Westboro idiots are allowed to be bigots. 

    I don’t care if a person kills a person because they hate Democrats or because they hate black people, the punishments for those should be equal, and yet they aren’t thanks to hate crime legislation, and that is flatly unjust, both to the victims and the monsters (and even monsters deserve the justice they deserve).

    1. The Westboro crew are vile, but they’re not idiots – they know which side their bread is buttered on.  They stay out of Canada because we have hate speech laws, for instance.

      Let’s turn it down a few notches from murder, to vandalism.  If you’re handing out life sentences anyway, the question of why the crime is special and deserves special treatment can get lost.

      Is it the same crime if two people paint two different things on a mosque: “Dumbo was here” and “Muslims go to hell”?

      I say, clearly not.  One is a nuisance that calls for renting a power washer soon and then forgetting about it; if you happen to catch the person who did it, a fine and some community service hours might be appropriate punishment.  The other is essentially an act of low-grade terrorism – the crime is not in applying paint to someone else’s property, it’s in the message it sends out to the Muslims in your community, and to other bigots.  It calls for a real investigation to try and catch the person who did it, to see if they are part of a larger group of potentially violent islamophobes that needs watching.  The punishment should send out the contrary message that you, as a society, will protect Muslims like everyone else in your society.

      1. But my point is, that should it really matter if the graffitti says “Muslims go to hell” or “Pro-Choicers go to hell”? That’s the same type of message, with the same intent, yet one would be “hate speech”, the other not; it has the same chilling effect on the victim, yet one victim gets their intimidator much more punishment than the other. And for the perpetrator, one opinion is “allowed”, while the other is punished more harshly. 

        I’m all for looking at intent, and frankly, the “Democrat murderer” is obviously less likely than the “Racist murderer”, but my point is that we shouldn’t go all the way to making specific biases more criminal than others; if the hate crime legislation was broader, and took into account things other than the narrow “race, religion, sex” aspect, my argument would dissipate, because then we’d be punishing not specific opinions over others, but the intent to intimidate. 

        1. First off, both of those vandalisms should be hate crimes, and I’m not even sure that they aren’t already.

          Second, it seems like you’re trying to imply that with strong hate crime laws, minorities will run amok, hate-crimeing the hell out of everyone. There’s no defense!

          1. First off, no, political affiliation is NOT generally protected by hate crime legislation. 

            Second, I have literally no idea where you’re getting that last part. That’s not what I’m saying at all. 

  9. Hate is hate. Once we start deciding which “type” of hate is worse than others, we are also deciding which one is better than others, we can’t have it both ways.  

    From a Scrooge point of view, I’m tired of wasting millions of dollars trying to define motive and how powerful that motive was in the murder. 

    It’s O.K. to define murder and killing, killing isn’t always bad, murder is, no matter what motivated the murderer. Do all men  who kill women “hate” women?

    Is there such a thing as “hating for a good reason”? It’s the same thing as saying a victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time, even if it’s walking down a hall in Columbine. Could the killer say the same thing, “everyone I  killed was in the wrong place at the wrong time”?

    Hate it hate, and I won’t ever bring myself to try and understand it or those who harbor it.

    1. From a Scrooge point of view, I’m tired of wasting millions of dollars trying to define motive and how powerful that motive was in the murder.

      Motive is a key component of our entire legal system. Are we going to throw out a millennium of jurisprudence to avoid offending some KKKholes?

      1. It looks like we’re going to have to throw it out because hate crime legislation could be used against ‘normal’ people. In various fantastical daydream scenarios.

        1.  Well, wait. Also, because burning a cross on someone’s lawn is the same as burning the sofa they put out for the trash.

          1. Hate crime legislation does not criminalize the intent of intimidation, it criminalizes only having an opinion. So while we can all agree that the intent behind burning a cross on a lawn is OBVIOUSLY intimidation and should be punished, while burning a sofa is simple mischief, hate crime laws don’t punish because of the intimidation, they punish the opinion only; someone who lights that same couch, for example, while cursing with the “n-word” would be committing a hate crime, even if their true intent was the same simple vandalism, even if the victim never heard the slur nor thought the crime was anything but the same simple vandalism. 

  10. I think that there is a difference between hatecrime and increased sentences for racially motivated crime.  

    I think we need to define certain crimes that are motivated by race and would not be a crime otherwise, like inciting racial hatred. 

    OTOH actually writing into law the idea that racially motivated killing is more ‘serious’ than just killing is the start of a slippery slope. 

    To be fair, I know I’m a bit weird on this.  I’d much rather law judged people by their actions.  For example, I’m uncomfortable with people being charged with a crime because the prosecution can produce evidence that they were planning it…

  11. Wow.  Keller’s column is just a mess in so many ways, but the rebuttal is not nearly as effective as it could be.

    Somehow both writers (and all commentators above) miss the key practical reason for hate crime laws:


    Normal crimes (murder, rape, theft, etc.) are solely under the jurisdiction of state/local authorities.  However, the federal hate crimes law allows the Federal government to go after those that commit hate crimes when local/state authorities refuse to — a very real and serious problem where the hate that motivated the crime is shared by a large percentage of the local population.  We’re of course seeing this right now in the Trayvon Martin case, where the local authorities have been very reluctant to act.  

    The original hate crimes law, as Keller should know, was introduced in 1968 but only covered race- or religion- based hate crime.  It was expanded under Obama in 2009 to include gender and sexual orientation.

    State bias or hate crime laws of course do not extend jurisdiction, but they’re frankly of far less importance.  They deal generally with adding hate or bias counts on top of more traditional counts, which only affects sentencing, which is generally at a judge’s discretion in any case.

  12. I don’t like hate crime laws, but that Keller piece is just a bizarre read.  The idea that hate crime laws are bad because they are policing thoughts is a silly idea – motive is always a factor in the legal system.  We don’t start policing your thoughts until you start committing crimes, at that point your thoughts are important to determining things like how likely you are to do the same thing again.

    Everyone (with the possibly exception of undergraduate philosophy students) agrees that motive and intent should play a role in sentencing.  The person who beats someone up because they just love hurting people is a lot more likely to do it again than a person who beats someone up because the victim harassed and insulted them every day for several years.  It’s not that we think that second person did the right thing, but it seems like he didn’t do as wrong a thing, and even if he did he’s not as much of a danger to the rest of us.

    The reason I don’t like hate crime laws is precisely that we already do all of this.  Unfortunately, the reason we need hate crime laws is that there is far too much sympathy out there for people who commit hate crimes.  Keller compares it to sadism and pedophilia, pointing out that those are not less odious motives for crimes.  They sure aren’t, but you find me a judge who would honestly say, “Well, he killed that kid, but only because he was a pedophile, so I should give him a sentence on the lower end of the scale,” and I will give you $100.  You find me a judge who will say, “Well, he killed that guy, but only because that guy was a faggot, so I should give him a sentence on the lower end of the scale,” and I will not give you a nickel – they would just be too easy to come by in some places.

    If there was a judge out there who did have a lot of sympathy for the fact that pedophiles sometimes kill kids, then I would expect that judge to be giving out the highest sentences possible in those cases.  Why?  Because he or she would be trying to conceal an opinion that is clearly deemed wrong by society.  Hate crime laws are society’s way of trying to get the same recognition of wrongness for crimes committed because of racism, homophobia and other biases.

    1. But their net effect is to penalize someone for an opinion that society has declared “wrong”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand your points, but the net result is not the equalizing you are claiming. What happens is (to borrow your epithetic example) that the guy who yells “f****t!” before he shoots a guy gets more sentence than the guy who yells “Democratic Commie!” How is that justice? They are both committing crimes of the same type, with the same intent. The only difference is the specific opinion. 

      To expand: we DO consider intent, but only as to how that affects the commission of the crime. We allow more leeway for accidents than crimes of passion, more leeway for crimes of passion than for premeditation. Motive is what helps the jury decide where on that spectrum the crime falls, which is what determines sentencing. (There is also the idea of “wouldn’t you”, as in “wouldn’t you be tempted to kill the guy who raped your daughter?”, which is supposed to get lighter sentences, but I believe technically juries aren’t supposed to think of that). With hate crime legislation, the jury is not asked to wonder whether there was a terroristic intent, but only if the crime was motivated by a narrow set of guidelines, and if it meets those guidelines, the punishment is harsher. We can talk all day about the broader context of hate crimes, and it’s true, there often is one, but that broader context doesn’t factor into hate crimes legislation in any way. Only: did they do this because of this opinion? Worse punishment than if they did the exact same crime for a different opinion. 

  13. It’s not the wrongness of hate that makes them hate crimes.  It’s the fact that the crime extends beyond the immediate victim.  If someone burns a cross in a public park, there are two criminal acts going on.  One is arson or littering or vandalism to public property:  the physical damage done to the park.  The other crime is threatening death to an entire community of people.  One is a property crime, the other is terrorism.  It makes sense to consider terroristic intent when sentencing.

    1. But terroristic intent is not generally part of hate crimes legislation. I think most would agree that terroristic intent should be penalized more, regardless of the group being terrorized.

      1. You’ve clearly been brainwashed to believe that ‘terrorism’ is something that ‘other’ people do to ‘regular’ people. Gay bashing is terrorism. Racist violence is terrorism. They are done in order to terrorize the underclasses when they get too uppity by doing things like walking down the street where regular people might have to see them. if the intent is to cause terror, then it’s terrorism.

        I can only assume that you’re a heterosexual, white male who’s never been the victim of a hate crime.

        1. So, because I believe that the intent (terrorism) should be criminalized, not the opinion, you therefore get to be a bigot (because only a white heterosexual male would have that terrible opinion)?

          For the record, I agree, gay bashing generally is terrorism. Look at what gay bashing generally is: often a group of people targeting someone based on a single (often perceived but not even confirmed) attribute, in an attempt to terrorize them all. Anyone would agree that that should be more harshly addressed. 

          But terrorism is not what is covered by hate crimes laws. Hate crime laws generally address only committing a crime based on an opinion. It’s black and white: if you have this opinion and commit this crime, you’ve committed a harsher and federal offense, if you have this other opinion and commit an otherwise identical crime, you’ve committed a less harsh and non-federal offense. 

          Imagine a guy who won’t admit he’s confused about his sexuality. Gets into a circumstance where he almost does something he considers “wrong”. Shouting an epithet, he stabs the other guy. The epithet makes it a hate crime. 

          Imagine another guy in a calculated fashion determines to murder a bunch of people at a political rally. Shooting many of them, he kills a little girl. That is not a hate crime, because he didn’t have one of the “bad” opinions. 

          Look at bombing abortion clinics. It’s exactly the type of terrorism that should be more harshly dealt with, an attempt to intimidate a group of people. But it isn’t covered by hate crimes legislation. 

          It would be trivial to turn hate crimes laws into anti-terrorism laws. And, as I’ve previously stated, they would generally be used in what are currently hate crimes situations, since we all know there’s a hell of a lot more racists/homophobes/etc. than there are people like in my examples. But they haven’t been turned into anti-terrorism laws. 

          The laws, as written, are unjust, and no one has given a single valid reason they aren’t. The terrorism argument doesn’t fly, because the law doesn’t actually address that terrorism, it only addresses whether someone has a specific opinion. Someone else upthread compared it to reparations, which is simply ludicrous. If you have a reason why we should be criminalizing specific opinions rather than the intent of terrorism/intimidation, please give it. 

          1. All of your arguments are a big, fat straw man. Nobody is prosecuted for a hate crime unless they’ve committed an associated crime. And as I pointed out before, only your privilege allows you to hold this opinion.

        2. Antonius, there is no “reply” button to your last post, so my reply will be here. My arguments are a straw man, are they? Look up January 8th in Arizona some time. That young man is a killer. A perpetrator of terrorism. And he is not punishable under hate crimes legislation, because he was attacking based on politics, not on race or gender et al. If he’d only thrown in a racial epithet at some point, he would be facing stiffer penalties than he’s presently facing for clear and simple terrorism. 
          Look up abortion bombings; there is a law that makes them a special class, but it is not a hate crime law.

          So don’t pretend that hate crime legislation is about terrorism; it isn’t. At least not in the US, it’s not. 

          I’m all for outlawing terrorism, for making crimes worse if they are in furtherance of terrorism. I’m not for creating special classes of terrorism that are somehow worse than others. As if bombing a church that is helping poor kids is worse than bombing a boys and girls club. As if shooting a little girl in cold blood specifically to terrorize people is worse if you call her an epithet first. 

          Is it your own privilege that refuses to see that that is what is being done? I’d question your ethnicity or sexuality, but ad hominem attacks do nothing to further a debate, and I can only ask, once again, that you give a logically coherent reason for singling out certain opinions, rather than singling out terrorism as a whole. 

          1. Is it your own privilege that refuses to see that that is what is being done?

            I had to have facial reconstructive surgery after being bashed?  Do you have any real world experience with hate crimes or just Randroid talking points?

        3. Antonius, I have given you a real-world example. You have ignored it. That is far beyond talking points, and I am no Randroid.

          I am sorry for what happened to you, but I have to ask: if the attacker had been attacking you because that person hated and intended to intimidate all BoingBoing commenters, rather than for whatever reason (a reason presumably covered by hate crime legislation) that person did so, would you be content with knowing that that person would get less jail time, and therefore is considered “less bad” by society, because it wasn’t for one of the specific opinions covered by the hate crimes legislation? Would you think that just? 

          What if I told you I was attacked for being black, would that change the validity of my points? 

          What if I told you I was attacked for being an atheist, would that make my argument more valid? 

          I submit it would not, and that you have no right to even ask it. My ethnicity, my religious preference, my sex should be irrelevant. Were I making some point that directly correlated to my own situation, sure, I suppose that would factor in. But to bring it in when it in no way relates to a single point I’ve made, to dismiss my argument based on your perception of that I must have Judeochristian-anglo-heteronormalcy is both an ad hominem fallacy, and, as I said before, bigoted. 

          1. What if I told you I was attacked for being black, would that change the validity of my points?

            Yes, it would. It would tell me that you had some real world experience to back up your theories.

            My ethnicity, my religious preference, my sex should be irrelevant.

            And they would be if we lived in Pleasantville. But we don’t. We live in a world where people like me get beaten or killed specifically because we are gay. And people like you don’t experience it and frankly, don’t seem to have enough empathy to understand the effect that it has on other people like me. That’s privilege. And privilege is like wearing a set of blinders.

        4. I repeat that you know nothing about me, and to dismiss my arguments based on what you ASSUME about me, is to be bigoted. Do not assume I have never been a victim; I am trying to remain both objective and polite, but you are straining at my resources
          I gave you the real world example you demanded, and you’ve ignored it (i can only surmise) because you have no legitimate arguments. But I will repeat it, to give you one last chance: Care to explain how murdering a little girl in cold blood with the specific intent to terrorize people based on their political affiliation is somehow NOT AS BAD as doing the same thing based on sexuality? Had the little girl been at a gay pride rally with her moms or dads and the same thing played out, what, precisely, would have been the moral difference that means that one killer gets a worse sentence than the other? I submit that they are both terrorism, both terrible, and both should receive stiffer penalties than a “normal” murder. You have been defending the idea that ONE kind of terrorist is worse than the other. Make your argument using this example, and not by saying “Well, I was attacked, so therefore your arguments are invalid”. I do not in any way want to dismiss what happened to you, but at the same time, it doesn’t give you a free pass to whip out during discussion and stifle all debate, nor a free pass to be a bigot.

  14. The whole hate crime thing seems so obviously wrong to me.   

    Back when I used to hold conservative views, I remember having arguments where I pretty much *knew* that I was wrong, I just couldn’t admit it to myself or anyone else.  Issues like gay rights, regressive taxes, etc – someone would make a totally valid point that blew my position out of the water and I would just roll my eyes and call them a liberal.  Eventually my positions changed on a lot of things.

    All that’s a lot of blather, but now that I’m the sort of person who reads Boing Boing and hangs out with more liberal-types, I find that hate crimes legislation and affirmative action (and possibly a few other things) are areas where liberals refuse to acknowledge the obvious wrongness of their position. 

    That’s all I really have to say, you already know why hate crimes legislation is wrong and you’ve already found mental tricks to dance around it, like a Republican explaining why Mitt Romney should have to pay about half as much federal tax as I do (percentage-wise), or explaining why a woman who is pregnant should have to be required to be penetrated for a vaginal ultrasound. 

        1. And in reality, you have vastly more protection under the law than those who don’t share your privileged status.

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